Grill guru Steven Raichlen shares his best tricks and techniques to help you cook outdoors like a pro
1. Dress the part. When grilling, don't wear gauzy clothing or loose sleeves. Keep long hair tied back and wear heat-resistant grilling gloves.
2. Tame the flame. Make sure your grill rests securely on a stable, fireproof surface away from porches, trees and shrubbery, and keep a fire extinguisher and a jar of coarse salt on hand in case of a flare-up. Store lighter fluid and combustibles away from the flame.
3. Light it right. Always open the lid before you turn on the gas to prevent a dangerous gas build-up. If the grill doesn't ignite right away, keep the cover in the upright position and allow the gas to dissipate before attempting to light the grill again.
4. Be prepared. Have everything you need -- food, marinades, tools, sauces and seasonings -- grillside before you begin. Once you start, don't leave the grill unattended. Keep small children and pets away.
5. Preheat the grill. Gauge the temperature of your fire by holding your hand three to four inches above the grill grate. Start counting: "One Mississippi, two Mississippi," and so on. Over a fire that's hot enough, you'll get to two or three Mississippi before the heat forces you to pull your hand away.
6. Lubricate the grate. To prevent food from sticking, oil the grill grate when it's hot but before placing food on it. Crumple a paper towel into a small wad, dip it in a bowl of oil, hold it with tongs and quickly rub it over the bars before grilling.
7. Don't recycle marinades. Do not reuse uncooked marinade for basting, especially if it was used on raw chicken or pork.
8. Know when it's done. Poke cooked meat with your finger. If it's squishy, it's very rare. If it's soft and yielding, it's rare. Medium-rare meat will gently yield, like the flesh at the base of your thumb. If it's medium, it will feel slightly firm but still yielding, like the flesh at the base of your thumb when you loosely touch your thumb to your ring fingers. Well-done meat will feel firm and springy, like the flesh at the base of your thumb when you make a fist.
9. Turn, don't stab. Don't pierce meat with a fork while grilling it. Instead, use tongs to turn the meat so the flavorful juices don't run out. For the juiciest steaks, chops, roasts and chicken breasts, let the meat sit off the heat for about 10 minutes before carving and serving them.
10. Keep it clean. Clean the grill when it's hot to easily remove burned bits of food stuck to the grate. Periodically clean the drip pan of a gas grill so accumulated fats don't ignite. Sprinkle crushed red pepper in the bottom of the grill. They'll keep pests away when you're not using it.